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Gayle v. City of New York, 1998 N.Y. Int. 121 (Oct. 20, 1998).

TORTS - PROXIMATE CAUSATION - CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE


ISSUE & DISPOSITION

Issue

Whether Plaintiff must positively prove that no plausible variables or factors other than the defendant's actions contributed to Plaintiff's automobile accident.

Disposition

No. To establish a prima facie case, Plaintiff does not have to present positive proof that excludes all other plausible causes of the accident. Rather, Plaintiff need only present evidence sufficient to allow the trier of fact to draw a logical inference that the possibility that factors other than Defendant's actions caused the accident is remote.

SUMMARY

Plaintiff was injured when his car slid off a slippery road and collided with a trailer. Plaintiff sued the City of New York alleging that the city had negligently maintained a proper drainage system which had resulted in the formation of large puddles which had, in turn, caused the Plaintiff's accident. Plaintiff's case consisted merely of circumstantial evidence because there were no witnesses and Plaintiff himself had limited recall of the accident. The circumstantial evidence consisted of expert testimony, physical evidence, and Plaintiff's testimony. The Appellate Division reversed a jury verdict in favor of Plaintiff, finding that Plaintiff had not proven that Defendant's actions were the proximate cause of his injuries. Specifically, Plaintiff failed to offer proof excluding the possibility of other plausible causes.

The Court of Appeals held that Plaintiff is not required to offer direct proof to exclude the possibility of all plausible causes. The Plaintiff meets his burden of proof on the issue of cause if he shows that his injuries more likely than not were caused by Defendant's negligence. Circumstantial evidence is sufficient to establish a prima facie case if a reasonable trier of fact could determine that it goes beyond mere speculation and creates a logical inference of causation. Upon the facts of this case, the jury could reasonably have found that Plaintiff met his burden of establishing a prima facie case.


Prepared by the liibulletin-ny Editorial Board.